Glossary of Terms

Click an entry to see a definition.



Certified Wood: wood used in building construction that is supplied from sources that comply with sustainable forestry practices, protecting trees, wildlife habitats, streams, and soil. (See Forest Stewardship Council)

Cradle-to-Cradle: a production framework in which all components of a product are designed to be reused or reabsorbed into the environment through decomposition. All processes involved with cradle to cradle design insure that products will have no negative environmental impacts throughout its life.

Cradle-to-Grave: With no consideration for sustainability, these types of products are used for a period of time and then discarded, often long before their useful life is actually complete.

Embodied Energy: All the energy used to grow, extract and manufacture a product including the amount of energy needed to transport it to the jobsite and complete the installation.

FSC- Forest Stewardship Council: an independent international organization to promote responsible management of the world's forests. They develop standards and a certification system and have become a recognized trademark.

Formaldehyde: a common ingredient in glues and binders (such as particle board). Formaldehyde is classified as a probable human carcinogen, and listed by the U.S. National Toxicology Program as "reasonably anticipated to cause cancer."

Green Building: a whole building integrated design and construction approach that optimizes the building site as well as energy, water and materials efficiency, and improves indoor environmental quality and occupant comfort.

Latex Paint: there is no latex in traditional latex paint. Rather, latex paint is Acrylic with a carcinogenic copolymer.

LEED-Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design: The US Green Building Council created a green building rating system (LEED), as a standard for developing high performance, sustainable buildings. The LEED system is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for commercial construction, interiors, and existing buildings.

Low VOC: The amount of VOC’s varies between different “low VOC” products. There are generally less VOC’s in low VOC products than traditional products.  This is in contrast with “zero VOC” products which have no volatile organic chemicals.  It is important to note, however, that while products may be low or zero VOC, they may still contain harmful chemicals, and even zero VOC products may contain colorants or fungicides with VOC’s.  It is best to look for ‘non-toxic’ materials when searching for products and to check labels for VOC levels.

Offgasing: the release of gases from a material or product into the air. These chemicals, including formaldehyde and VOC's, affect indoor air quality and human health.

Post Consumer Content: Waste recovered from consumers and recycled.

Post Industrial Content: Waste recovered from industrial processes and recycled.

PVC: Polyvinyl chloride. A plastic that is widely used in building materials and children’s toys.  It is often made softer and more flexible by the addition of chemicals such as plasticizers.  These chemicals are capable of offgasing.

Recycling: The process of collecting, sorting, cleaning, treating and reconstituting materials that would otherwise become solid waste, and returning them to the economic mainstream in the form of raw material for new products.

Recycled/Recovered Materials: Waste materials and by-products that would have otherwise been disposed of as solid waste, but has been collected and recovered as a material to replace a virgin material.

Recyclability: The ability of a product or material to be recovered or otherwise diverted from the solid waste stream for the purpose of recycling.

Renewable Materials: Materials, such as bamboo, grasses and trees, which can be regenerated. Bamboo is an example of a rapidly renewable resource because it can replace itself within five years.

Salvage Materials: Materials generated from building deconstruction activities which can be reused without being remanufactured.

Sick Building Syndrome (SBS): Health complaints such as nasal congestion, headache, irritated eyes, lethargy and tiredness. They are present in individuals when they are within the building and disappear when they leave. Causes are poor indoor air quality caused by harmful interior materials and offgasing.

Sustainability: Meeting today's needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Achieved through adhering to the triple bottom line; environment, economy and social equity.

Sustainable Yield: the amount of a material which can be removed from an ecosystem without compromising the ability of the ecosystem to regenerate itself.  In the context of sustainable forestry, a sustainable yield would mean that 100% of the trees which are harvested in one season would be able to be replaced before the next harvest.

VOC- Volatile Organic Compounds: that have sufficiently high vapor pressures to exist as gasses or vapors at ambient temperatures. They contribute to outdoor (ground level ozone) and indoor air pollution.


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